Dress Codes, Acid Throwing, and Validation of Personhood

For those of you not familiar with tumblr, it’s the website where the teenagers go to scream at each other about social justice and occasionally reblog pictures of their Starbucks drinks and call it art. I was on this site the other day when I came across a post showing pictures of an Pakistani woman with a scarred face conducting an interview with a man. The pictures were captioned with what was being said in the interview. He asked her how she got the burns on her face. She said that her husband, sister-in-law, and husband’s mother threw acid onto her. When the man asked if she then left her husband, she said that she tried to leave and couldn’t support her children on her own. In tears, she told the interviewer that she had to return to her husband’s home and make up with them, because she didn’t have anywhere else to go.

Acid throwing is (unfortunately) an incredibly prevalent topic in both feminist circles and the world at large. This horrible act of violence is commonly used by extremist groups as a scare tactic, trying to keep women and girls from receiving an education or from even having the nerve to show themselves in public at all. It is (at least, in my opinion) an issue that deserves a lot more time and a lot more action from all corners of social justice.

So, I already had the mentality that this is an issue that requires attention when I scrolled down to read the comment below; I couldn’t believe what I saw: “Meanwhile, in America, feminists are complaining about how dress codes are oppressive. You idiots have never experienced oppression, and pray you never do, because this is what it looks like.”

I was pretty pissed off when I saw that, but I honestly couldn’t quite figure out why. What this person was saying wasn’t exactly untrue—compared to acid throwing, dress codes (and things like slut-shaming which are intrinsically linked to them in my mind) are nothing compared to the horrors faced by women in other countries. But it just didn’t sit right with me. I shook the feeling off and went to read the next comment.

“As a South Asian American feminist, let me remind everyone that oppression is not a competition. Just because we fight one type of sexism doesn’t mean we don’t care about other instances of sexism that don’t affect us directly in our day to day lives. My heart goes out to this woman and the hundreds of other victims like her. I want to educate people about these kinds of incidents. I support organizations that help women like this. You may think that dress code issues are trivial, but they are related to a larger issue of women’s bodily autonomy, which affects women’s health and safety. So please, let’s try to bring awareness and bring about change instead of insulting entire groups of people because they are facing issues that are less scary than the one presented.[emphasis mine]”

I remember when I was first getting acquainted with the social justice movement, I would try and mentally map out (in a pyramid of sorts) who was least and most oppressed in Western society. Males who are straight, able-bodied, white, etc etc, obviously went at the top of the pyramid—in the space reserved for pharaohs or kings if this were history class. After that I thought white women probably came next. And then below that it got murky in my mind. Did gay people come next? What about trans people? What about trans people who were black? Were gay men above gay women or did they all take up the same chunk of the pyramid? I knew on some level that my logic was flawed (and I realize now that it’s just a pretty fucking stupid way of looking at things) but I didn’t know what was wrong with it. (This post was a huge help for me in understanding why.)

Now, if we as feminists are to believe in and fight for the personhood of all women, that means white women, and women of color, and women from all backgrounds and from all corners of the globe. Just because personhood and the trials of that personhood should not be overlooked because they come from a place of marginalization, does not mean the trials of personhood should be overlooked just because they come from a place of privelege. This ties back to my essay on the apsects of rape that feminists sometimes overlook. If a priveleged person is raped, that doesn’t make it any less of a rape. And if a priveleged woman has their bodily autonomy restricted or denied, that doesn’t make it any less of an issue. We have to stop thinking of the different sects of the social justice movements as separate and start thinking of them as one big whole.

Yeah, I fully realize that acid throwing is a lot more horrific and a lot more damaging than dress codes or slut-shaming. But both are infringement on women’s rights and both are infringement on the overall rights of human beings. I’m not saying that the issue of acid burning is less important than the issue of dress codes, because it’s obviously not—what I am saying, though, is that both issues are an important part of the same movement. Both issues deserve attention and both issues deserve action. Invalidating the experiences of one group of women in order to validate the experiences of the other is the wrong direction for the feminist movement and the social justice movement as a whole to take itself.

In order for the feminist movement to advance, it needs to represent a cohesive and united front. All acts that violate women’s rights need to be brought to light—we focus too much on the big picture of the progress we’ve made and forget that there are still so many battles to be fought. We shouldn’t be wasting our time fighting over who is more oppressed—we should be spending that time fighting for the rights of all women, and of all human beings across the globe.


Recommended Reading:

Social Justice and Racial Invisibility

What Constitutes True Social Justice?

The Privelege of Just Being a PERSON: Whiteness and Race Anxieties

Racism in The Places We Deny


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